Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, May 15, 2020

Rogers column: Masks shouldn’t be political statement

LaReeca Rucker was in a small park in Oxford, Mississippi, the other day, enjoying the fine, sunny afternoon, like many other people. Unlike the other people, though, she was wearing a mask.

Nothing elaborate. No politically or socially provocative message displayed. Just a plain black mask made of T-shirt material that a friend had given her. But that apparently was too much for one woman to handle.

“Oh, my God,” the woman said as Rucker walked by her and her young daughter, who had both turned and stared.

Rucker did not take this as a compliment. “The way it was said I interpreted it to mean it was ridiculous that I was wearing a mask,” she told me.

“I just thought, am I really being mask-shamed?”

This is, pardon my French, bass-ackwards. Medical experts generally agree on the usefulness of masks in preventing the spread of the coronavirus. And even if there is some question as to precisely how effective they are in a particular situation – given the variance in mask materials and construction – this much is clear: They don’t do any harm.

So if anyone deserves shaming, it’s those smug jerks who sneer at masks. Consider just these few of many examples:

A Republican state representative in Ohio said he didn’t want to conceal his God-like countenance.

“This is the greatest nation on earth founded on Judeo-Christian Principles,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “One of those principles is that we are all created in the image and likeness of God. That image is seen the most by our face. I will not wear a mask.”

 In Stillwater, Oklahoma, city officials rescinded an order requiring masks in stores and restaurants after customers started threatening employees who were trying to enforce the order.

And, in the most egregious example, a Family Dollar security guard in Michigan was shot dead after telling a customer to wear a mask – as required by the state.

We live in perilous times, in more ways than one.

I admit, I was hesitant to wear a mask at first. Not because I saw it as a violation of my personal liberties, but just because it felt a bit awkward. But that feeling went away pretty quickly when I went into the grocery store and saw a goodly number of other people wearing them.

Not as many as I would have liked, but still. The more the merrier. And the more the healthier, apparently.

A new study suggests that if 80% of Americans wore masks, we’d basically be out of the woods. Researchers point to Japan, in particular, where nearly everyone is wearing a mask and the infection and death figures, even adjusting for the smaller population, is a tiny fraction of this country’s.

Granted, you could never get 80% of Americans to wear masks, even though for many it would also improve their appearance markedly.

Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have evolved during the pandemic. Initially it was thought people without the virus needn’t wear a mask. Now the agency recommends them for all when in public and close to others.

And so does Nashville. An order effective on May 1 from the director of public health states this:

“Citizens and visitors of Nashville and Davidson County should wear a cloth face covering or mask to cover their noses and mouths whenever in a community setting, especially in situations where other people are near. These settings include, but are not limited to, grocery stores, pharmacies, and the workplace.”

What’s more, businesses open to the public are supposed to post signs at entrances with wordage to the effect of this:

“Dear Customers/Visitors,

Please help us follow CDC GUIDELINES by wearing a cloth facial covering or mask while in our business/facility. This will help PROTECT our EMPLOYEES and EACH OTHER.”

The order outlining requirements for Phase 1 of the city’s reopening, effective on May 11, kicks up things even further for business employees: The mask language goes from “should” to “shall,” meaning it’s not just a recommendation.

So, in summary: Masks, good. Mask shaming, shameful.

As for LaReeca Rucker and the park incident, she showed admirable restraint in not speaking back to the woman involved. But she did wonder:

“Has everything become so politically polarized that trying to protect myself from a virus that we don’t yet understand reveals my political affiliation?

“It shouldn’t, because I am a moderate on many issues. I also wanted to say that I don’t really fully understand what is happening or will happen with this virus or situation, but for me personally, I think it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Better safe than sorry seems like common sense. But common sense ain’t so common these days.

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com.